In Praise of NESFA Press
an essay by Rich Horton
Originally published at SF Site, and their version (with some nice artwork added) is available here.
The other day, in the mail, came a box with two books: An Ornament to His Profession, by Charles Harness, and Making Book, by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. The first is a huge collection of stories by a relatively little-known but very exciting and original SF writer. The second is a small anthology of essays, fan writing, by an editor at Tor. Both books, in their very different ways, are products of the insular (sometimes too insular) field of science fiction, and they are delights for it. The first is a strange assortment of wildly plotted, gloriously imagined, extravagantly colorful tales, which are SF not only (obviously) because of the settings and ideas, but also, I think, because only SF would readily house such implausible and sometimes rather creaky, but always fascinating, work. The second is not SF, not even always about SF, but rather a set of intelligent, funny, committed essays on politics, religion, copyediting, and even science fiction. But it's a "product of the field" because most of the essays originated in SF fanzines, which are famously not about SF (necessarily), but about anything an SF fan might be interested in.
But there is another way these books are "products of the SF field". They are both published by NESFA Press, a labor of love by the New England Science Fiction Association. NESFA is one of many science fiction clubs around the world. These clubs are social organizations, and they put on conventions, and print fanzines. And, in NESFA's case, they publish books. NESFA's books come in two general categories: books by the Guests of Honor at the annual NESFA-run convention Boskone (as well as occasional Worldcons for which NESFA acts as publisher); and a series of single-author collections which seek to preserve significant short science fiction by writers who for one reason or another are not likely to be snapped up by major publishers, at least for their short fiction. (Short story collections being notoriously hard to sell, these days.) They call the latter series NESFA Choice.
I found out about NESFA Press just a couple of years ago, and since then I've grabbed several much-desired books. Some of their books can be found at bookstores (one of the benefits of superstores is that their desire for books to fill their vast expanses of shelf space leads them to stock some non-traditional publishers' offerings), sometimes they can be found in convention dealer rooms, and they can also be bought directly from NESFA. I look around my bookshelves and I'm surprised at how many fine NESFA books I have. These are wonderful collections, essential books: and likely they would never exist with the fine people of NESFA.
The Rediscovery of Man is the complete short science fiction of the incomparable Cordwainer Smith, an almost incalculable treasure. The Best of James H. Schmitz gathers a tasty selection of this engaging (and sadly now seemingly on his way to being forgotten) writer's short stories. (You may remember his novels about the likes of Telzey Amberden, Trigger Argee, and the Witches of Karres.) From the End of the Twentieth Century collects much of the best short fiction (and poetry) of the amazing John M. Ford (author of The Dragon Waiting and Growing Up Weightless.) Entertainment is a solid selection of '50s stories by Algis Budrys. The Silence of the Langford collects stories, criticism, and humour (often at the same time) by perpetual Fan Writer Hugo Winner David Langford. Lois McMaster Bujold is almost exclusively a novelist, but most of her short stories are available in Dreamweaver's Dilemma, including such rarities as the title story, set very early in her Miles Vorkosigan future history, and a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, "The Adventure of the Lady on the Embankment".
They offer plenty more, as well. His Share of Glory collects the short fiction of that great, biting, '50s writer C. M. Kornbluth, who died sadly young at 38. Ingathering is a complete collection, including one new and four previously uncollected pieces, of the People stories by Zenna Henderson. Just recently they have published a collection of stories by Murray Leinster (Will Jenkins), one of the few writers who successfully made the transition from the pulpish '30s to the more sophisticated post-Campbell SF. The Passage of the Light is a collection of Barry Malzberg's "recursive" SF: his stories about science fiction. They publish bibliographies of Andre Norton and Jack Williamson. And other Boskone books include story collections by Walter Jon Williams, Mike Resnick, and Joe Haldeman.
I would be remiss not to mention some of the many other small presses which publish wonderful books, often short story collections. Broken Mirrors Press (run by Crank! editor Bryan Cholfin) publishes some intriguing books by Gene Wolfe, R. A. Lafferty, David R. Bunch, and others. Arkham House has been publishing SF for a long long time, beginning in the late '30s with H. P. Lovecraft books, and including fine recent collections by Alexander Jablokov, Michael Swanwick and Ian MacLeod. And former Arkham House editor Jim Turner started Golden Gryphon Press shortly before his untimely death, and published collections by James Patrick Kelly and R. Garcia y Robertson among others. And of course short stories do not go completely unnoticed by the more commercial publishers: witness Tor's recent The Avram Davidson Treasury.
It's often said, and I think there is a lot of truth to the statement, that short fiction is the lifeblood of the SF field. Certainly much of the best, most stimulating, SF is short stories. But without efforts like NESFA Press, we risk losing touch with some of our SF heritage: with writers like Kornbluth and Leinster and Schmitz and Harness, who were never quite superstars but who wrote (and, in Harness's case, still write) vital, fascinating, fiction.